Cash-strapped government renews push to dole out money to disqualified fightersMinistry goes ahead with plan to pay Rs200,000 to each of the over 4,000 unverified conflict-era Maoist recruits.
Amid a financial crisis so serious that the government is struggling to pay its employees, the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government is pushing ahead with its decision to dole out Rs200,000 each to the former Maoist combatants disqualified for integration into the Nepal Army for being underage or late recruits during the UN verification in 2007.
Home Secretary Binod Singh confirmed to the Post that a working procedure has been approved as per the Cabinet decision. Earlier, a similar attempt was stalled by the Supreme Court after the Baburam Bhattarai-led government decided to distribute Rs200,000 per head to the disqualified rebel fighters.
Each district has a committee to vet and send the names of the rejected combatants to the home ministry, said Singh. With the ministry’s approval, the distribution of the money begins. A Cabinet meeting on March 20 had decided to provide cash relief to the disqualified members of the Maoist fighting force.
After protest from the other ruling parties, Prime Minister Dahal had said there was no such plan to distribute cash to disqualified members. If the decision is implemented, it will cost the state around Rs800 million.
“We are expecting around 2,000 applications from various districts,” said the home secretary. “The number could go up to 4,000.” The 77 district administration offices will determine whether the listed disqualified Maoist combatants are out of the country, somewhere in the district or elsewhere in the country.
“Besides our own data, we have also sought the names from different organisations,” said Singh. “If some are outside the country, they will get the money only after they come back and complete due process. The money will directly go to the bank account of each combatant.”
Charan Prasai, a prominent human rights defender, said though the cash compensation was a welcome step, it would provide no justice to the disqualified combatants and their overall development would still be compromised.
“No doubt they are victims, they deserve support from the state, but the compensation should not be used as a political tool,” said Prasai.
“The government is trying to use this support for political gains. Giving them justice and a future because they were recruited early in their age matters for their overall development. The government should be sensitive to their other demands.” The former combatants have also been demanding social security and livelihood trainings.
Among the 4,008 combatants rejected for integration, 2,973 were minors, while 1,035 were recruited after the first ceasefire of May 26, 2006—just six months before the peace deal was signed.
Of the around 19,000 Maoist fighters who qualified for integration, only around 1,400 chose to join the Nepal Army and the rest preferred voluntary retirement. The government provided between Rs500,000 and Rs800,000 each to those who chose voluntary retirement.
The decision to provide cash was opposed in Parliament too. Deepak Bahadur Singh, a member of parliament from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, said that the government, which had doled out millions of rupees to disqualified Maoist combatants, had not done anything for the Nepalis who had returned from foreign jobs maimed.
During a meeting of the coalition partners on March 22, the prime minister had clarified that there was no such decision to give cash to the disqualified combatants.
“We expressed our concerns about the government’s decision to release the money to the disqualified combatants but the prime minister said he had no such plans,” Ramesh Lekhak, chief whip of the Nepali Congress, said on March 22 after the meeting.
A senior home ministry official said they were never asked to stop their preparations on the working procedure. “After we received the official communication on the Cabinet decision, we readied the guidelines.”
It will take at least three weeks to release the first tranche of cash, said Secretary Singh. “The finance ministry has told us that it will release the money in tranches. So as soon as the verification process is completed, the cash distribution will start.”
Lenin Bista, who joined the Maoist insurgency at the age of 12 and now leads an organisation of former child combatants in Nepal, welcomed the government decision but objected to the terms “child soldier” and “disqualified combatants” used in the government programme.
“Providing cash is not enough; meeting the other demands of the 4,008 soldiers is as important,” said Bista.